Over the last 12 months, Tyler Wren has been temperature checking the legal network based in New Zealand. Having conducted various polls asking NZ Qualified Lawyers based in New Zealand what their plans are, the evidence is blatantly pointing toward a mass exodus of lawyers from the shores of New Zealand. Their destination of choice is mainly to the UK and Europe and also Australia.

On average our many LinkedIn polls have indicated more than 50% of lawyers are doing this – a very significant proportion of our legal population.

Usually, the majority of our OErs come from Auckland but again our polls have seen a large proportion of those based in Christchurch and Wellington are keen to make the move too.

The most common group of lawyers looking to do this is from 2 – 4 years PAE.

This correlates with the fact that most of these individuals would have left New Zealand in 2020 and 2021 if they were able to. Due to covid delaying their plans hindering safer travel and many of their counterparts who did head off are reporting months and months of being stuck in high rise London flats for weeks at a time – the plan simply has not been appealing until now.

The migration of lawyers out of New Zealand is normally balanced by the return of those who have completed their OEs but we are seeing less of this in 2021 / 2022. This is due to many of those lawyers extending their stays due to not being able to fulfill their previous travel plans to explore the Northern Hemisphere due to being under many lockdowns, so they have decided to stay on.

Some lawyers have decided to emigrate back to Australia rather than back to New Zealand. Many have explained the rise in the cost of living in New Zealand as a factor in this decision and although salaries have increased considerably in the NZ market there is still a difference between salaries on average New Zealand is AUS$35k – $40k behind per PAE banding. There is also the factor of the complexity of work, career prospects and the size of the firm being more attractive in Australia.

So what does this mean for those staying in NZ, simply opportunity!

Due to this net migration of lawyers leaving New Zealand we are seeing the following:

  • Increased salaries
  • Increased benefits
  • More responsibility earlier on in a career
  • Better benefits – across the industry, we have seen from Top Tier to GPs working with HR consultants to improve the well-being of their employees and make law a more sustainable career choice and ultimately retain their staff
  • Some remote work opportunities especially for current incumbents in teams eg I have recently talked to a lawyer who had secured 3 years tenure with their current employer. Their decision was to move to Queenstown, rather than shift employers; their supervising Partner proposed a remote work option and the employee happily agreed. Work from home is 100% not for everyone however they have already built up the tenure and experience to make this shift a smooth one. We are not seeing this for lawyers of under 3 years PAE moving to a new role but for those who are experienced it certainly is an option.

How can you make this work for you?

Ensure that you are well aware of your “worth” talk to your peers in terms of salary or talk to Tyler Wren – we produce an up-to-date salary guide each year that analyses the New Zealand and Australian markets in terms of average salary banding per PQE group and current benefits on offer.

Ensure that you know where you want to be and in what time frame and ensure that your manager knows this too.

Ensure that you are working in the area and on the type of work that you want to do in the long term.

If you want to change the terms of your current role then ASK, many lawyers feel nervous about approaching their employer about changing their work patterns, benefits or salary but now is the perfect time to do so. The worst that can happen is that your employer can say No then you can make an informed decision as to whether you’re happy with your current terms or its time to move on.

Other points to consider are:

Be aware that many New Zealand employers offer a very fair salary along with hard and soft benefits so if you are not quite sure where your current package sits on the spectrum your network of lawyer contacts and also recruiters such as ourselves can offer you that advice too.

We have also had conversations with lawyers that have been unrealistic in what they can achieve in the New Zealand market. It’s best to have an idea of what is reasonable before approaching your employer.

There may be a shift in demand as the economy changes, we are all aware of inflation, interest rates, wider workforce shortages, and covid affecting the New Zealand economy – in our experience, this is likely to create a change of skills needed rather than overall demand.

The overriding factor though is that the employment market for employers in the legal sector is going to get tougher. New Zealand qualified lawyers will remain in high demand and should be able to earn a great salary in a sustainable set of circumstances and we cannot see this changing in the next 12 months.

Contact Lisa Gray on lgray@tylerwren.co.nz or call +64 (0) 9 973 5470 to speak confidentially about any of the above roles.